The FourFourTwo Preview: West Ham vs Arsenal
Cockney pragmatists versus The North London artisans.
On paper Arsenal are one of the last teams Sam Allardyce would want to be facing with this team hovering just above the relegation zone.
WEST HAM FORM
- Man Utd 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Spurs 1-2 West Ham (LC)
- West Ham 0-0 S'land (Prem)
- Liverpool 4-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Palace 1-0 West Ham (Prem)
- Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Man City 6-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Napoli 2-0 Arsenal (CL)
- Arsenal 1-1 Everton (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Hull (Prem)
But over the years the Hammers' gaffer has had a knack of finding a chink in the Gunners’ armour – especially when they come to do battle in his backyard.
During his time in charge of Bolton, Allardyce was the architect of some famous up-and-at-em victories against Arsene Wenger’s team at the Reebok Stadium.
The Frenchman always lambasted the roughhouse tactics used by Big Sam’s teams, but Allardyce insists he was able to exploit Arsenal’s weaknesses within the parameters of fair play.
Two of the factors that gave him leverage was the commitment of his combatants and the atmosphere generated by the fans - he’ll be looking to the Upton Park faithful and his players to stir up the same kind of intimidating environment that successfully unsettled Arsenal in the north-west.
The Boxing Day clash is set-up perfectly for another upset. The north Londoners’ recent form has fuelled the doubts surrounding their title-winning credentials – further reinforcing their reputation as chokers.
But in reality, they’re still very much in the fight and this is a different Arsenal Allardyce is preparing his team to face.
The Gunners still have the second best defensive record in the league, despite their 6-3 loss to Manchester City, and with 6ft 4in Per Mertesacker at the back they have a player capable for dominating the aerial battle.
At Bolton, Allardyce had Kevin Davies to rough up the Arsenal defence, he now has... er… Modibo Maiga leading the line (cough) for his West Ham side. If only he had a 6ft 3in international striker to call upon…
Expect to see Arsene Wenger rotate his side after Monday’s clash against Chelsea. With only two days to rest his players, Wenger will want some fresh legs for the clash at Upton Park.
He’ll be hoping the gash on Laurent Koscielny’s knee will have healed, but unfortunately Jack Wilshere is unavailable as he serves the final game of his two-match suspension.
There are no welcome returns from the treatment room for Allardyce, but record signing Andy Carroll is close to making an almost spiritual resurrection from a knee injury.
Key battle: James Collins vs Olivier Giroud
Of all the managers in the league you’d expect Allardyce to be able to prepare his team for the threat of a big target-man, but last season Giroud flourished against West Ham. The French striker scored in a 3-1 win at Upton Park and twice at the Emirates as Arsenal romped to a 5-1 victory.
West Ham’s no nonsense centre-back Collins didn’t play in the latter, but he was there in east London and despite registering some decent stats, he was helpless against Giroud.
As well as scoring his first Premier League goal in Arsenal colours, the Gunners’ front-man managed 7 other attempts, 3 of which hit the target. He also provided a creative threat, laying on a goal for Theo Walcott, and was one of the game’s best dribblers, recording success with 2 of his 3 take-ons.
If you look at the numbers, Collins was impressive. He topped the charts for interceptions (4), blocks (2) and clearances (13) and he won 4 of his 8 aerial challenges, compared to Giroud’s record of 3 from 5.
Despite all of this, the Welshman couldn’t stop the 6ft 3in France international. Collins can’t afford to switch off for a moment on Boxing Day otherwise he’ll find himself watching Giroud wheeling away with his arm raised.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 5-1 W Ham (Prem, Jan 13)
- W Ham 1-3 Arsenal (Prem, Oct 12)
- W Ham 0-3 Arsenal (Prem, Jan 11)
- Arsenal 1-0 W Ham (Prem, Oct 10)
- Arsenal 2-0 W Ham (Prem, Mar 10)
For all of Allardyce’s notable successes against Wenger, he hasn’t managed to engineer a victory over Arsenal in his 11 visits to Highbury and the Emirates. It’s hard to see him bucking this trend, as his team go into this game without a win in four, including three defeats. The last time West Ham won at Arsenal was in 2007, when Bobby Zamora scored to give the Hammers a 1-0 win as they went on to pull off the great escape from relegation.
If they carry on in their current form, Allardyce is going to have to repeat the feats of Alan Curbishley that season – that’s even if he manages to retain his job at Upton Park with the pressure mounting.
Wenger is feeling the weight of expectation himself. It was all smiles and praise when the Gunners were top of the Premier League, but recent setbacks have brought Arsenal crashing back down to earth.
He needs to keep his team focused and believing in themselves. Every side experiences dips in form over the season – it’s how they react that determines their fortunes. It’s up to Le Professor to make sure his team rises to the challenge, rather than drop to their knees.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- The Hammers have a poor record against the Gunners, losing 8 and winning 0 of their last 10 encounters.
- Only Hull have averaged fewer goals than the Hammers (2.12 GPG) and they have had 5 goalless draws this campaign.
- Only Spurs have picked up more points on the road than Arsenal so far this season.
- The last time Arsenal had more points at this stage of the season (35) was in 2007/08.
- After going 7 away fixtures without a win to Allardyce’s teams, Wenger has won the last 2.
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